Journalist who fled El Salvador is temporarily safe from deportation from the U.S., but remains in ICE detention

A Salvadoran journalist who has been in detention in the U.S. for almost eight months received a temporary stay of removal while an Atlanta court considers his appeal.

Manuel Durán (Facebook)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has granted journalist Manuel Durán Ortega’s emergency motion to stay his deportation, according to court documents. The board also granted a request from the American Society of News Editors and other organizations to file an amicus brief.

“We are grateful and pleased that the Court acted to stay Mr. Duran Ortega’s deportation so that his appeal may be fully heard. As a journalist who has dedicated his career to reporting on government misconduct, Mr. Duran Ortega faces serious danger if he is deported to El Salvador,” said Kristi Graunke, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which represents Durán Ortega along with the organization Latino Memphis.

Durán Ortega, owner and journalist of the Spanish-language news site Memphis Noticias in Tennessee, fled El Salvador in 2006 due to death threats, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its initials in French). He was arrested on April 3, 2018 while covering an immigration protest in Memphis and charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway, as reported by local media.

Those charges were dropped, but he was then detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on April 5.

The SPLC argues Durán Ortega was detained by ICE “in retaliation for reporting on controversial issues related to law enforcement in Tennessee.”

“Claims his arrest was retaliatory in nature are patently false,” Bryan D. Cox, spokesman for ICE, told the Knight Center.

“He was criminally arrested by local police, he is in the U.S. in violation of federal law, and he is subject to an outstanding judicial order of removal issued by a federal immigration judge,” Cox said.

SPLC also has said Durán Ortega was “unlawfully arrested by Memphis police.” The Memphis Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The latest development in Durán Ortega’s case comes after the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed his appeal on Oct. 17 after an Atlanta immigration court denied a motion to reopen his case.

On Oct. 30, Durán Ortega requested the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit grant a petition for review of his 2007 removal order and of the BIA order that dismissed his appeal. That’s when they also requested a stay for his removal.

In the Nov. 29 ruling, Justice Beverly B. Martin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit pointed to the strength of multiple arguments made by Durán Ortega. Among them are his argument that the BIA made a mistake in denying his motion to reopen immigration proceedings, pointing to his claim that conditions materially changed in El Salvador. Also included is his argument that the in abstentia removal order should be revoked, citing the Supreme Court case Pereira v. Sessions. In his emergency petition for review, Durán Ortega argues that his Notice to Appear (NTA) –that was issued shortly after he arrived in the U.S. in 2006– did not have a time or date of his initial hearing, and was therefore not an NTA.

Regarding other factors to be satisfied for the stay of removal, the judge also said she was “mindful of the likelihood Mr. Duran-Ortega would be physically harmed if he is removed to El Salvador while his appeal remains pending.”

She also said that “there are no circumstances here that would heighten the ordinary public interest in removing Mr. Duran-Ortega,” citing that there is no record of him having been convicted of a crime and “no evidence that he abused the processes provided to him.”